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I often hear the advice to "be true to your feelings" or "feel your feelings". For the most part, I think this is wise advise. People who have more awareness around their feelings and have more specific language to describe it tend to be better at emotional regulation and dealing with stress, and report higher rates of general well-being compared to people who do not have as much acute awareness around their feelings (you can read more about this phenomenon of emotional granularity and its benefits here).

However, I've found that many people, when they talk about their "feelings", they aren't really talking about feelings at all, but rather their thoughts, judgments, and sometimes blame. For example, someone might say something like,

"I just really feel that this isn't working out" (thought/judgment), "and I feel like you aren't doing everything you could be doing to advocate for me" (thought, judgment, AND blame).

None of those words contain any actual feelings, yet they were prefaced with the words "I feel". Similarly, someone might unload a bunch of their thoughts and judgments about you, and then follow it with "Please don't get upset. I'm just telling you how I feel". But in reality, they just sh*t all over you and dressed it up as their "feelings", which somehow is supposed to make it acceptable?

I do not believe most people have any awareness around this, and they move through the world thinking that their thoughts and judgments of people and things around them are actually their feelings. As you might surmise, this can have serious detrimental effects on relationships and even how one sees themselves (remember, judgment is not just limited to others; people have pretty harsh judgments about themselves as well - again, often disguised as "feelings").

Let me guess what you're thinking: Okay, then what are actual feelings?

Feelings are directly related to sensations we experience in our bodies. They are things like excitement, confusion, fear, tenderness, or love. Feelings are not thoughts. They often come up together, and our feelings can tell us more about our thoughts and needs, but they are not the same thing. Having language differentiating this is crucial in having awareness around the internal human experience. For a more detailed list of feelings categorized into groups, you can check out John Kinyon's Feelings and Needs list here.

So when we say things like "be true to your feelings", I want to be clear about what "feelings" are and what they most certainly are not. I would not advise someone to "be true to their judgment and blame", because I'm almost certain that that would result in interpersonal disconnection and probably internal turmoil. However, having greater awareness of one's actual feelings in a moment, sitting with them, understanding them, and figuring out the needs connected to them can have profound benefits.

Anyone on their Nonviolent Communication (NVC) journey, whether they are first learning to implement it into their daily life, or have been doing so for many years, will likely encounter someone who is resistant to their use of NVC. Usually, this person is someone who is accustomed to hearing the other speak in a certain way, and when that other starts implementing NVC, it throws them off and they might say something like, "Just speak normally", or "I know what you are doing and I don't like it".

Similarly, one might be giving another person empathy with hopes of being able to express and also have a sense of being heard, but they never are actually heard by that person.

Both of these situations can be discouraging, because NVC is supposed to be a tool that fosters connection, not deepen disconnection. So what does one do if they find themselves in a situation where they are trying to use NVC with someone who is resistant or unwilling to engage?

  1. Respect Their Feelings and Needs: Start by acknowledging the other person's feelings and needs. Even if they are not open to hearing you, showing empathy for their perspective can create a more conducive atmosphere for communication. This empathy may go on for hours or even days. If someone is responding with more thoughts and feelings coming up for them, it is likely because they want to be heard around those. Give them an experience of being fully seen and heard to the best of your ability.

  2. Choose the Right Timing: Sometimes, the timing might not be right for the other person to engage in a deep conversation. If they are not receptive at the moment, consider finding a more suitable time to approach the conversation.

  3. Lead by Example: Demonstrating the principles of NVC in your own communication can have a positive influence on the other person over time. Your consistent use of empathetic language and understanding may encourage them to adopt similar practices. You can read more about this in our last blog post, Walking the Walk: Why Embodying Your Philosophy is Better Than Talking About It.

  4. Create a Safe Space: Make sure that the environment is conducive to open communication. This might involve finding a quiet and private space, minimizing distractions, and ensuring that both parties feel comfortable expressing themselves.

  5. Listen Actively: Even if the other person is not initially open to hearing your perspective, actively listen to them when they're ready to speak. Show that you are genuinely interested in understanding their point of view. This means giving them full presence and not thinking about what you are going to say next, or the best ways to respond, but instead, just be with them and their words.

  6. Use Neutral Language: When you do have the opportunity to communicate, use neutral and nonjudgmental language. Focus on observations, feelings, needs, and requests, avoiding blame or criticism. In other words, use NVC principles!

  7. Respect Their Boundaries: If the other person is not ready to engage, respect their boundaries. Pushing too hard can create resistance and make the situation worse. Let them know that you are available to talk when they feel comfortable.

  8. Build Trust: Establishing trust is essential for effective communication. Over time, by consistently demonstrating your commitment to NVC principles, the other person might become more open to engaging in dialogue.

  9. Focus on Self-Care: Dealing with resistance can be emotionally draining. Make sure you prioritize your own well-being and self-care throughout the process. If you really need to be heard, you can get third-party empathy from someone else, or maybe even give yourself empathy.

Finally, if you have done the steps above, and you think the other person might be willing to hear you, but you aren't sure they will know how, you can make a very specific request to be heard. Here is one possible strategy:

Think about what would need to happen in order for you to have a sense of being heard in the situation, and then ask for it. Is it reflection? Is it needs guesses? You can ask someone to give you presence, listen to you fully, and then hand them a feelings and needs sheet. Ask them not to respond with their thoughts, but rather just look at the sheet and take some guesses as to what you might be feeling or needing. Sometimes this will work, depending on the willingness of the other participant. In my experience, if I've laid the groundwork (steps 1-9 above), usually the other person is pretty open to trying this. The beauty is, that person doesn't need to know anything about NVC. All they need is specificity from you and a list of feelings and needs.

If you have an introductory knowledge of NVC but you would like some more guidance or opportunities to practice your skills with others, consider taking our Intro Course or joining our Empathy Gym. If you would like to deepen your practice, wherever you are on your NVC journey, contact us here.

This is likely in the top 10 pieces of advice I give to my students of Nonviolent Communication, and even some of my therapy clients: living your truth and leading by example is much more effective than lecturing others into adopting your philosophies. In other words, walk the walk more than you talk the talk.

Have you ever been so excited about something you've learned that you just wanted to tell the whole world about it? Or maybe you believe that everyone around you would benefit from knowing the things that you know, so you put a bunch of energy into trying to get other people to see the world the way you see it - through your philosophical lens?

I would wager that these efforts work sometimes, but the majority of time, people probably listen politely, nod, and then completely forget about what you have so diligently and passionately spelled out for them; or maybe they aren't as polite about it and they are pretty clearly not present with you as you launch into your lecture on how to figure out life. This can be so disappointing and leave you wanting a sense of being heard and understood, and maybe even leave you with thoughts about the other person's competence or openness.

The truth is, all people, at any given point in time, have their own set of needs that they are trying to meet. They have their own circumstances and life events, and they are likely much more concerned with their own life than your excitement about some new thing they've never heard about. Some people will be open and willing to listen and learn, but catching someone in that state by chance is not incredibly likely, especially if you just launch into your thoughts on why and how they should change their way of thinking/being without checking in with them about it first.

When it comes to NVC, new learners tend to get excited about using this new way of communicating and connecting with others, and then they almost immediately become discouraged when they realize that the rest of the world does not reciprocate in this compassionate style of communicating. This realization can lead to frustration and a desire to teach others and lecture them on why their other conversational responses are not connecting, or maybe share what empathy really is and how to empathize with someone effectively. But, as we know, lecturing and educating are themselves other conversational responses, and unless someone is specifically looking for that and expecting it with consent, lecturing and educating tend to be disconnecting.

So, what do you do when you have people in your life who you believe would benefit greatly from NVC (or literally anything else; I'm just using NVC as an example)? You embody it. Convince others that what you know (that they don't know) is worthwhile and life-bettering by having a better life! Okay okay, I know "better life" is a judgment, and really doesn't mean anything concrete. So instead, think about the concrete ways in which NVC benefits you, and show it instead of talking about it.

Maybe, for you, NVC has helped you have greater connection within your relationships. Enjoy that connection! Keep creating new connections and nurturing old ones. Maybe NVC has helped you to take blame and judgment out of your language. Great! Keeping your language judgment free as much as possible is all you need to do, then. Forget about telling people how to take judgment out of their language and thoughts, or why they should have less judgment. Instead, just be in that space of non-judgment and let others notice it. The people who notice and become intrigued by it will likely gravitate to you because they enjoy emotional safety. They may not realize that that is what is happening. They might label you as having "good vibes" or as being "an easy person to exist with". Eventually, they will get to a place of curiosity around what makes you different from the other people they interact with, and that is when you get to talk about NVC. Wait for them to come to you. Wait for them to get curious and hungry for something deeper, something more connecting. Because when people are open to learning, they are much more likely to actually learn.

Additionally, this takes the pressure off of you. The task of convincing another person of anything at all can be exhausting. If you yourself are convinced that NVC (or whatever other tool, philosophy, etc.) is going to make the world a better place, then do all that you can to be in integrity with NVC. Trust that embodying your truth will indeed create more peace and connection in the world, and inspire others through the positive results within your own life.

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